Daniel W. Drezner

Someone please explain this foreign policy paradox to me

Here’s a conundrum I don’t entirely understand.  Maybe someone can explain it to me.  1.  For the past year or so, we’ve seen a series of stories detailing the Obama administration’s foreign policy process.  The signal theme of these stories is that the White House is large and in charge of this process.  While Secretary ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Here's a conundrum I don't entirely understand.  Maybe someone can explain it to me. 

1.  For the past year or so, we've seen a series of stories detailing the Obama administration's foreign policy process.  The signal theme of these stories is that the White House is large and in charge of this process.  While Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates are clearly influential, Obama and the Executive Office of the President are clearly the central node, disciplining everyone else into a single policy position.

2.  The description of U.S. foreign policy towards Afghanistan to come out of the McChrystal imbroglio is one of serious bureaucratic wrangling, a Pentagon resistant to civilian oversight, petty carping, and significant press leakage. 

Here’s a conundrum I don’t entirely understand.  Maybe someone can explain it to me. 

1.  For the past year or so, we’ve seen a series of stories detailing the Obama administration’s foreign policy process.  The signal theme of these stories is that the White House is large and in charge of this process.  While Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates are clearly influential, Obama and the Executive Office of the President are clearly the central node, disciplining everyone else into a single policy position.

2.  The description of U.S. foreign policy towards Afghanistan to come out of the McChrystal imbroglio is one of serious bureaucratic wrangling, a Pentagon resistant to civilian oversight, petty carping, and significant press leakage. 

How can both of these narratives be correct? 

It’s possible that David Brooks is correct and this is simply a case of garden-variety kvetching gone public.   Or it’s possible that Obama’s strategic communications shop is too good at their job, exaggerating an orderly process that is fundamentally disorderly. 

Which is it?  Provide your answer to this paradox in the comments.  Your humble blogger will ponder this question while on a small vacation in a zombie-free quiet undisclosed locale.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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